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Dec 27 2011

Allure of the seas cruise, 2011.

Published by Mark under Cruising, Travel

I realized that my “cribnote” entry from September was never followed up on. I’m not sure why blogging has taken a backseat in the last year, but I find myself unmotivated to write here anymore. It likely has a lot to do with the reality that I’m guessing nobody reads my blog any longer.

Regardless, I’ll follow up for the few family members and friends who may still be following.

In late November/early December we cruised on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, the largest cruise ship afloat. My friends on Facebook would have seen plenty of pictures of the trip during the last few weeks, or you can check out Royal Caribbean’s website for details.

It was our first cruise, and there was only one way to explain it - 7 days of an altered state of reality.

First off, Royal Caribbean has service down to a science - it was simply amazing to watch the ship and it’s staff run like clockwork all day, every day, ensuring that the guests are pampered, catered to, and made to feel like, well…Royalty. Even though we were in one of the lowest stateroom classifications we were treated no differently than guests in other staterooms short of those in the upper echelon suites, for whom the “royalty” status takes on a whole new level, one which I’ll surely never experience.

The ship is impossible to ever explain without physically sailing aboard her. Amazing doesn’t begin to explain it, and despite the fact that there were over 6000 guests on our particular cruise (significantly above the normal amount due to many staterooms having more than 2 occupants) it’s rare that you are ever aware of the fact - the ship is so massive that there was no issues finding a quiet place to sit quietly…or even alone if you wanted to. On the flipside, if you want activity and entertainment you need not look far - everything from 3D movies to zip lining, rock climbing, a real wooden carousel, countless pools and hot tubs (many in the adults-only solarium on the bow), 2 Flow-Rider artificial wave machines, thousands upon thousands of deck-chairs in the sun, bands, the royal promenade, shopping, restaurants, bistros and bars, and one of my favorite areas aboard the ship, the unique Central Park, which is (for lack of a better description) like a real park aboard the ship. Yes - real plants, real trees, and even real birds that live aboard the ship by choice, since the park is open to air. It was my “go-to” place where I would sit, listen to the birds (or the crickets at night) and unwind.

My only two “issues” with the cruise?

1/ Food is so plentiful (and of course, free) that unless you have an iron constitution and can either walk right on by and ignore the reality it’s tempting you every few minutes, you should plan on gaining weight during the cruise. I gained almost 8 pounds, which given how hard I worked last winter to get all the weight off, was a bit of a personal disappointment to me.

2/ Tours of the ships behind-the-scenes areas were hard to come by, expensive, and reserved to the more elite (aforementioned suite) guests. I was first put off when I was told that there was a $150 charge for the “All access pass” tour, which admittedly was 3.5 hours long, covered interesting areas such as the bridge, engine room, galleys, and many staff areas, but having it monetized to that extent was surprising. Secondly, as a non-suite guest I was told that I was effectively out of luck since it was limited to a small number of people, and only on one day. Despite my willingness to pay, and attempts to get on the tour, I was never successful.

In the grand scheme of things, my above issues were but mere annoyances - the whole experience was otherwise simply amazing.

Will we sail aboard Allure (or it’s sister, Oasis) again? Absolutely - we are already in the initial planning stages for the same cruise next November. It’s going to be a long year - perhaps we’ll have another cruise in the meantime. ;)

Yes, we are hooked.

9 responses so far

Aug 26 2010

Mini-vacation to Splash Canyon, Barrie. Meh.

Published by Mark under Camping, Travel, WTF

On a bit of a whim we took our trailer up to Barrie Ontario for a few nights at the “Splash Canyon” waterpark / camping resort. Normally I probably wouldn’t blog about a kitschy little vacation like this, but I must say that the whole experience was a bit disappointing for a few reasons and perhaps my post can act as a bit of a review for others.

I’ll preface it by saying that we did have fun. The waterpark was fun overall (with exceptions) and we met a great family camping on the site next and ended up having a lot of fun with them both at the waterpark but back at our campsites in the evening as well.

The big issues I had with the park?

1/ On the evening we arrived they shut down the entire waterpark early. When we took issue with it (as we eventually learned our newfound friend neighbors also did) they reason given was “There wasn’t enough people to bother keeping it open, we were loosing too much money”. WTF? Seriously? How about putting a way a few dollars on the summer weekends when you’re making it hand over fist so you can keep the park open no matter how many people are in it on a slow day.

2/ I don’t know if it’s because the season is drawing to a close or what, but overall the water park facilities showed a lack of maintenance.

3/ The wave pool water level was about 2 feet (!!) below where it should be and as such the skimmers were not able to function - this resulted in a lot of crud floating in the water, which in turn ended up causing an early closure of the wave pool again on our second day there due to “water clarity issues”. It’s not surprising there was water clarity issues when there was effectively no surface skimmer filtration.

4/ With some exceptions, many of the staff in some areas really couldn’t seem to give a crap that you were there. Social time with fellow employees or campground friends seemed to trump even basic levels of customer service.

5/ Whoever thought that making walkways surround by (and in some areas, partially built with) loose gravel in a waterpark (where you are in bare feet) should have their head checked. I lost track of the number of times I stepped on rocks EVERYWHERE in the water slide area. Other high traffic areas had nothing at and were sloppy mud which in turned was tracked everywhere else where there were actually paved walkways. Seriously, cement pavers aren’t that expensive that there’s a need to space them 12″ apart and fill the surrounding spaces with gravel while leaving other areas a complete mud puddle.

6/ The campground was rather sterile. Despite being surrounded by beautiful forrest, it’s clear that they clearcut and bulldozed the entire camping area and then planted new trees which are quite small. I often wonder why campground planners do this versus salvaging mature tree cover (and selectively cutting) in order to carve a campground out of the existing mature forest instead. As built, there’s not a lot of privacy and no shade whatsoever - each site is adjacent to at least two others, or three on the inside section. On a positive note, full hookups are standard and were problem free and campground rules were adequately enforced.

7/ Perhaps I’m nitpicking now, but seriously, put a muffler on your service vehicle. You could hear their staff vehicle rumbling through the campground area all day long and it got really annoying as it was obnoxiously loud, especially when they rolled past our campsite in the mornings before we (and I’m guessing, MANY others) were still in bed.

Will we go back? Probably not. It was fun for the 3 days we were there, but with the exception of the fact it had a campground attached there are other (better) waterpark options out there. It think if we hadn’t felt a bit screwed by having the entire park close early on us one day, and partially on another day we might have had a better opinion, but when you have paying customers on your property closing early because your profit margins are not up to your liking, or a pool is dirty and has to be closed due to no fault of the customer (as as the case of the wave pool) the situation becomes inexcusable and certainly won’t make people (including us) come back.

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Jan 03 2010

2009 in review.

Published by Mark under Camping, Flying, Life, Reflection, Travel

Looking back on the last few years worth of blog posts it seems I never made a resolutions post since 2007. That’s probably a good thing considering my results from the last time I did.

A quick roundup of my 2009.

- My job was unstable and in the spring a sense of doom and gloom hung over not only me, but many of my fellow employees. Many of us (including myself) have returned to stable employment once again, but many others are still unemployed, or only working occasionally.

- Total hours flown, zero. I haven’t flown PIC since May 7′th, 2007. Looking back on that and realizing that it’s now approaching 3 years since I unofficially stopped flying it a bit surprising. Do I miss the stress of trying to stay current all the time given the renters policy at my airport? No. Do I miss the cost? No. Do I miss stressing about the weather, hoping it will play nice for when I scheduled a flight? No.

Do I miss flying at all? Yes.

I guess the last answer speaks volumes, but I don’t anticipate the situation changing in 2010 - costs have only gone up, my free time has officially gone down dramatically with changes to my job, and the spare time that we will have this year will be consumed with the horses and RV’ing. My medical is still technically valid from a year standpoint, but probably temporarily invalidated by some medications I’m currently taking, so in the end it’s all rather moot anyways.

- Speaking or horses, we got back into them in a big way in 2009 and both me and my daughter (if not other family members) have enjoyed it immensely. It’s amusing to listen to many people exclaim how expensive horses must be only to compare it to flying in my mind and have a little chuckle about the comparison. Horses are expensive, yes. Flying is vastly more expensive.

- RV’ing will continue to be a primary focus for the summer of 2010, I’m sure. We’ve officially travelled coast to coast now (Vancouver BC in 2008 and Prince Edward Island in 2009) and are now looking for alternative destinations. There’s more coasts, but I don’t have any interest in driving to the Arctic Ocean, so that probably means our next big trip will be south, possibly either early this year, or late fall - nobody wants to drive into the hot weather when it’s just as hot here. Both my wife and I are lucky to have quite a lot of vacation time, so this leaves some flexibility to break it up into one short trip in the summer, and perhaps the longer one in the fall. Time will tell.

So, looking back on things in general, the beginning of 2009 was rotten for reasons I have (and haven’t) mentioned here, but ended on a much more positive note. Lets see how 2010 goes.

One response so far

Aug 04 2009

Midsummer update.

Published by Mark under Camping, Life, Travel

Haven’t been posting much recently, so for anyone interested, my summer (so far) in a nutshell.

- I’ve been working more then I anticipated despite things looking grim in the spring. Prospects for getting back full time are looking up. Eventually.

- We took our RV vacation to the east coast of Canada, a few weeks later then planned, but we made it none the less. We spent considerable time in Quebec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Overall it was an extremely enjoyable trip with a much more relaxed pace versus last years trip to Vancouver.

- Still no flying although the bug has been biting hard recently. Must win lottery.

- We’re replacing our minivan with something new. Not sure what yet, I’m opting for a Corvette or something fun, but my wife is leaning towards something slightly more practical for a family of four. One must dream.

One response so far

Mar 04 2009

Pondering vacation plans

Published by Mark under Camping, Life, Ponder, Travel

Despite the fact that I’m (at least temporarily, based on the latest outlook) out of work we have decided to push on with our summer vacation plans.

Unlike last summer where we logged over 10,000 Kilometers on a trip to Vancouver BC and back this summers trip still involves our RV, but for a much shorter trip to Prince Edward Island on the east coast of Canada, and then down the eastern seaboard of the US to the Boston area, and then westward towards home.

This trip will take us through several notable Canadian cities, many of which I have been to many times before, but not in a tourism aspect, Quebec City being one of the big ones. Our terminus of Charlottetown PEI is a location that I have not visited before, and beyond that the many small towns along the eastern seaboard through Maine and New Hampshire will surely offer up many surprises, excellent scenery, and friendly people, if not big attractions.

Instead of taking 4 weeks for this trip as we did last year this years trip will be 2 weeks. That will give us several additional weeks of vacation time later in the summer or fall to keep our options open to take another short trip or to just sit back and unwind near home, and given the much shorter distance involved with the planned route of this years trip (less then half of last year) we simply don’t need as much time to begin with.

So, the planning begins.

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